Malaysia & Borneo Travel Notes

Borneo Weather & Climate

Borneo climate is as tropical as it gets, with temperatures ranging from a cool 72 F (22 C) in the evenings to a steamy 93 F (34 C) in the daytime. In East Malaysia, Sarawak receives significant rainfall (averaging 78-98 inches, or 200-250cm, per year). The Landas, as locals call the monsoon rains, fall between November to February.

In mid- to late-September, tropical Kuala Lumpur sees its low rainfall with any precipitation limited to afternoon showers. It is still in the high season—the dry season—and Kuala Lumpur is as busy as ever. Cloud cover does increase in the course of the month, though, as the weather makes its way toward the eastern monsoon season, starting in October. Warm, year-round emperatures average mid-70sF° at night and warming to nearly 90 degrees at midday.

Sabah is less wetter than Sarawak due to location just below the typhoon belt (known as the ‘land below the wind’). However, the monsoon period should not deter your travel as rains are periodic and the weather warm and humid.

Recommended Packing for Borneo

☐ A backpack works best as rolling luggage is difficult on poor road and sidewalk surfaces
☐ day pack, smaller bag to carry during the day
☐ khaki or other light pants
☐ bandanna(s)
☐ sunscreen (Bullfrog waterproof spray recommended) and sun proof lip balm
☐ gel hand cleaner or wipes, such as ‘Wet Ones’ or antibacterial (to clean hands before eating)
☐ comfortable walking shoes – bring some shoes that are sturdy and comfortable
☐ electrical outlet conversion plug (to British 3-prong type—right)
☐ thin or quick drying towels (that dry quicker in the humid climate)
☐ light fleece for cooler morning weather and air conditioned buildings
☐ a light waterproof, foldable jacket/poncho for periodic rainfall
☐ over-the-calf socks or anti-leech socks to protect from leeches
☐ small, extra bright LED flashlight with extra batteries
☐ insect repellent (we like 3M's Ultrathon in a spray bottle or Repel’s plant based lemon eucalyptus insect repellent lotion
☐ white cloth gaiters for leeches
☐ plastic bags in various sizes (to keep clothes and gear dry in case of rain)
☐ small compact umbrella (for sun and rain protection)
☐ sunglasses
☐ water bottle
☐ basic first aid kit (band aids, mild antiseptic cream, wipes)

Also see our geenral packing list

Packing Strategy

-Pack at least twice as much clothes and underwear than normal. The humidity will leave you showering a few times a day while changing clothes just as often. After each outing, you'll likely return to your hotel soaking wet.
- In your day pack, include some dry clothes in plastic bags in case of getting soaked.
- Travel boat open boat is drenching, have your rain jacket or poncho handy and plastic bags ready to cover your camera gear.
- For most day trips, bring swimming gear to cool down from the tropical heat.
- A sarong (obtained in country) is a perfect and comfortable wrap for many occasions.

Everyday Attire

In the hot and humid tropical climate you should pack light, comfortable cotton shirts. Casual dress is typically with t-shirts and shorts (though lightweight pants like khakis offer sun and mosquito protection). When in the jungle, leeches are prevalent, dress appropriately and tuck in clothes so they do not wiggle onto skin (more on avoiding leeches).


Most trips require a significant amount of walking and we recommend sturdy trail shoes. A pair of flip-flops is convenient for short strolls.

Money Matters

The currency for Malaysia is the Ringgit ("MYR," around 3 to 1 U.S. dollar). As in most Asian countries, it is easiest to convert your currency in the airport upon arrival or in any of the main cities. U.S. dollars can be exchanged at some of the larger hotels, however exchange rates are typically poor. Credit cards (VISA is most the most common) are typically not accepted in local shops, restaurants and markets, so please bring enough currency for incidental expenses. ATMs exist in larger towns, but may not be reliable with foreign cards with differing pin schemes.

A range for tipping is USD5-10 per person per day for your guide and about half that for your driver.

Health & Immunizations

The risk of malaria for most tourists visiting Peninsular Malaysia is extremely small with insignificant risk in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and all other major cities. However, in East Malaysia, the risk of malaria is present throughout the year though in these regions, there is risk mainly off the coastal plains and towards the border areas. Generally, a malaria prophylaxis is recommended for those visiting Sabah or Sarawak (see below), but please check with your medical professional.

Malaysia Malaria Risk Map
Source: Fit For Travel

Electrical & Telecommunications

Malaysia has 220-240 current, acceptable to almost all devices such as camera adapters, iPads, and laptops chargers. However, anything from home with a motor (such as hairdryer) is compatible only with 110 volts with short circuit.

In the jungle, expect to have very limited or no Internet or mobile phone access. Malaysia uses a "GSM" network compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile phones who operate GSM networks while Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and several smaller carriers such as U.S. Cellular use the "CDMA" network, which has less worldwide coverage than GSM. You'll want to check with your service provider regarding international coverage and make sure you understand exactly what you'll be charged for making calls and, if you have a smart phone, for using data (email/Internet). Rates can be extremely expensive and we've all heard horror stories of travelers returning home to find massive bills for using their phone while traveling. To avoid this, recommend you unplug or use your cell phone while traveling for emergencies only. Your guides will be able to give you the best options for calling home and loved ones can contact you using the local phone numbers we provide on your final itinerary.

Read CNET's World Phone Guide.

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